I have the great pleasure to see lots of films and I have seen some great films this year but on Friday I had the great pleasure to see a film that for me is the best that I have seen this year!
It’s the early 1980s. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is living an idyllic existence in Italy with his parents. One summer, his charmed life is disturbed by Oliver (Armie Hammer), who comes to spend six weeks with the family, helping Elio’s father. They are six weeks that will change Elio’s life forever.
Based on Andre Aciman’s novel, it’s a romance overwhelming in its intensity, a heart that swells until it has to burst and is cinematic-ally beautiful.
Elio (Chalamet) is 17 years old and living in the Italian countryside with his parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar). Handsome, but more boyish than he perhaps believes, Elio is confident and smart, liked by everyone who meets him. Every room he enters is his. But he is thrown off balance by the arrival of Oliver (Hammer), a twentysomething who has come to stay to assist Elio’s father in his work. Oliver looks like the American ideal distilled into a single man. And with his charm, looks and presence outstripped, Elio is immediately transfixed and consumed with Oliver.
Guadagnino’s telling of the development of this romance, which changes both parties, is simple yet complex on so many levels. He fills every scene with life. Trees are heavy with fruit; people are always eating; the chirping of crickets a constant soundtrack. Long summer days melt away with a gentle routine of swimming, cycling and time doing nothing.
The screenplay, written by James Ivory, is elegant and full of small surprises. The level of attention given to even the smallest of characters means so many of them have an impact even with minimal screen time — Elio’s brief girlfriend breaks your heart with a handful of lines with her presence, vulnerability and sincerity. The few vocal emotional outpourings are powerful and earned — a final paternal monologue by Stuhlbarg late in the film is as verbose as the film gets and its impact is immense (bring tissues). But much is conveyed in the many silences which are entrusted to an excellent cast – the looks and all that is left unsaid.
Chalamet is the centre and he gives the kind of performance that immediately sends you to Google to find out where the hell this kid came from, because he gives a performance that will stay with you long after the lights of the cinema have come up. All Elio’s teenage emotions are raw on Chalamet’s skin. He plays him as a person still forming, not scared by his feelings but surprised. In a film in which every performance is terrific, Chalamet makes the rest look like they’re acting. He alone would make the film worth watching, but he’s just one of countless reasons.
Armie Hammer brings a beautifully, complex and at time unreadable to Oliver and his connection with all of the people who come into his orbit make for another stand out performance in this film.
This is a film that’s full of joy but also emotionally devastating, with deeply affecting performances. A romantic masterpiece that you will long remember, think about and dissect.
If you are going to see one film this Christmas (it opens on Boxing Day) then this is the film you must see.